Studio portrait of the Donner family in Antwerp, Belgium.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 58199
- Antwerp, Belgium
- Variant Locale
- Photo Designation
LIFE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST -- Belgium
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Regine Donner
Studio portrait of the Donner family in Antwerp, Belgium.
- Henri Donner (now Zvi Amiram) is the son of Arie and Sabine (Reinert) Donner. He was born May23, 1933, in Antwerp, Belgium, where his father was a diamond cutter and polisher. Henri had four older siblings who were born in Sokol, Poland, before the family immigrated to Belgium: Clara (b. 1918), David (b. 1920), Israel (b. 1922), and Regine (b. 1928). The family, which was quite poor and frequently in debt, lived in a Jewish working class neighborhood. Henri's brothers were active in the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth movement. The boys attended Jewish schools, and the girls went to public schools. After the German invasion of Belgium in May 1940, the family fled towards France but only got as far as Dunkirk before returning home. During the German occupation the family became separated from one another. Clara, who was married, was deported with her husband to Auschwitz. Israel was detained in a round-up and sent to the Malines transit camp. From there he was deported to Auschwitz and subsequently, to Buchenwald. David, who was a member of the Jewish resistance, became involved in efforts to smuggle Jews out of the country. Ultimately, he himself crossed into France and then into Switzerland. Regine joined a Hashomer Hatzair agriculture school and later went into hiding with the Hanquet family in Grez-Doiceau. Henri remained with his parents. In the summer of 1942, Henri and his parents attempted to flee to Switzerland via France. They first boarded a train for France, but Sabine became nervous and they returned to Belgium. Soon after their return Arie was arrested and interrogated. As soon as he was released, they decided to flee immediately and hired a guide to assist them. However, while the Donners were en route to Paris, the Germans arrested their guide, leaving the family with neither an escort nor valid papers. David, who was then in Lyons, hired a new guide, but when the guide arrived in Paris, he refused to take Sabine and Henri with him. Arie decided to go alone with the guide, but only reached as far as Grenoble. He spent the rest of the war in hiding in and around Grenoble. Sabine and Henri remained in Paris without papers, money or much knowledge of the French language. Sabine wrote to Regine, who was then living in hiding with the Hanquet family in Grez-Doiceau, Belgium. Regine then came to Paris and accompanied her mother and brother back to Belgium. The Hanquets found separate hiding places for Sabine and Henri with Catholic families in the region. Sabine hid with the Strebel family in the village of Hondeng-Goegnies, while Henri was taken to the Alardo family in Dinant. Victor Alardo was deputy head of the Belgian underground in the area. He and his wife, Ida, lived on a large farm with their six children, Joseph, Marie-Louise, Marcelle, Jeanne, Ida and Maurice. Initially, Henri was to lodge with them for only a few days and then move to an orphanage. However, the Alardo children persuaded their parents to let him stay. Henri remained in their care for the rest of the war. He lived under the assumed name of Henri Peeters and quickly learned to speak French and Walloon. He went to school with Maurice Alardo and accompanied the family to church every Sunday, but was never baptized since the Alardos felt he was too young to make an informed decision. On three occasions, the Alardos brought Henri to visit his mother. Sabine had contracted liver cancer while in hiding. Her health deteriorated further after learning of the arrest of her oldest daughter and son-in-law. Clara and her husband had been denounced by neighbors and taken to Malines. In 1943, they were sent to Auschwitz on Convoy no. 23 and gassed the following day. Henri saw his mother for the last time in July 1944. She died three days later. That summer, the Germans confiscated the Alardo farm during the fighting in the Ardennes. The family hid in a grotto until the Americans liberated the area. Thinking the war was finally over Victor confessed to his neighbors that Henri was in fact a Jewish child. Thus, when the Germans reconquered the area the family was in great danger of being denounced to the Germans. Leaving his wife and four daughters behind, Victor fled to the liberated zone with Henri and his two sons. After reaching their destination 80 kilometers to the north, they learned that the Germans had been repulsed from their village and that it was safe to return to their farm. After the war, Arie, David and Israel, who had all survived imprisonment in concentration camps, returned to Belgium and found Henri and Regine. They hoped to immigrate as a family to Palestine. However, Regine, who had converted to Catholicism in August 1943, decided to stay in Belgium. Arie and his older sons were furious to learn of her conversion and refused to have anything more to do with her. Though Henri preferred to stay on the Alardo farm, he agreed to return to his father and brothers. However, when he discovered that David had registered his name on a Youth Aliyah list, Henri fled back to the Alardos'. Arie then realized that Henri needed more time to acclimate to the new situation. Israel and David went to Palestine, and Arie brought Henri to Antwerp to readapt gradually to life as a Jew. Henri agreed to join a Hashomer Hatzair group, but still insisted on going to church on Sundays. Arie then made the decision to take his youngest son to Palestine, reasoning that only in the Jewish state would he fully return to Judaism. Together they sailed from Marseilles on board the illegal immigrant ship the Theodor Herzl in April 1947. Upon reaching the coast of Palestine, British soldiers intercepted the ship and deported the passengers to Cyprus. Henri was allowed to leave for Palestine after three months since he was a child, but Arie had two wait an additional three months. In the meantime, Henri went to live with his brother David at Kibbutz Ein Ha-Horesh. Upon his arrival in Palestine, Arie resumed his career as a diamond polisher in Netanya. In 1971, Henri arranged for his sister Regine, who had become a nun, to come to Israel to be reconciled with their father before his death. In 1992 Yad Vashem recognized Victor and Ida Alardo and their three oldest children: Marcel, Marie-Louise, Joseph, as Righteous Among the Nations.
- Artifact Photographer
- Max Reid
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Regine DonnerSource Record ID: Collections: 2001.226
Record last modified: 2008-09-12 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1143809